Monday, December 31, 2007

Democracy – Pakistani Style

It has always amazed me how the media, politicians, and pundits will elevate someone in death to a place they wouldn’t give them in life. I am often reminded of the eulogy given by Ted Kennedy (probably his greatest moment in public life) for his brother Robert where he said, “My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life.” The recent tragic death of Benazir Bhutto and its subsequent media frenzy reminds me of those words. Many of those who are idealizing her today were aware of the lit fuse that followed her arrival in Pakistan and refused to respond to it. They were aware of the constant threat of death that all of the opposition candidates in Pakistan were under and yet this government continued to fund Mr. Musharraf and play the terrorist card while he created the atmosphere for political assassination and crushed the seeds of democracy.

Ms. Bhutto will be chalked up as another casualty of extremists or al Qaeda, another casualty of the war on terror. The truth of course is anything but, Ms. Bhutto was a casualty of democracy in Pakistan. You see democracy in Pakistan has its own rules and procedures for campaigning. There are no candidate debates, instead there is candidate assassinations and attempted assassinations. There are no Party platforms to discuss, there is intimidation and suicide bombings. To those who are advocating the war on terror, democracy is part of the collateral damage. They create these copious photo-ops espousing the need for democracy, while continuing to funnel money to the tyrants and dictators. Ms Bhutto was no more a casualty of the war on terror as she was a casualty to business as usual, the US does not want democracy, they want stability.

The truth of the matter was that Ms. Bhutto was sacrificed by the US, her return to Pakistan was orchestrated by the US. Despite the MSM, she was brought to Pakistan not to win, but to lose. Her presence was to give legitimacy to a corrupt system that we didn’t want fixed, we just wanted it legitimized. The goal of the State Department was to parade her and the other opposition candidates around before the elections to give the appearance of free and fair elections, when in truth they were never going to be allowed to assume power. The problem was that Mr. Musharraf became nervous, he knew his stock in the US was falling and he was not willing to take the US at its word. Maybe he remembered Saddam or the Shah who knows, but one thing is certain he wanted to ensure that there would be no Election Day coup. There was not going to be any Orange Revolution in Pakistan.

"The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability, but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact," said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

But the diplomacy that ended abruptly with Bhutto's assassination yesterday was always an enormous gamble, according to current and former U.S. policymakers, intelligence officials and outside analysts. By entering into the legendary "Great Game" of South Asia, the United States also made its goals and allies more vulnerable -- in a country in which more than 70 percent of the population already looked unfavorably upon Washington.[1]

For those who need convincing consider this, if al Qaeda killed Bhutto why is the only one with something to gain from it is Musharraf? If Musharraf is so hated by al Qaeda and the Taliban why would they do something to benefit him just two weeks before an election? Also, consider how the Bush administration is not calling for postponement of the election, they are calling for it to continue. The country is in a state turmoil with violence breaking out in every major city. Both opposition party leaders were targeted for assassination and their Parties are in disarray. I wonder who is going to prevail in this election. The real trick will be how fast the Neo-cons spin this into a mandate to continue the heavy-handed policies of Musharraf. This thing was a powder keg and all of our years of support for this man, the military, and his tactics came to fruition in the death of Ms. Bhutto.

Do I believe the US was complicit in the death of Ms. Bhutto? No, but do I believe they set the ball in motion that created an atmosphere for her to be murdered? Yes, I do. I believe they underestimated Musharraf and his desire to cling to power by any means necessary. I believe they thought they could play both sides against each other and the plan backfired horribly. The problem is when you are dealing with dictators and megalomaniacs it is kind of hard to know what they are capable of. Once again the arrogance of the Neo-con intelligence prevented them from seeing the very real possibility of this assassination taking place. There was a deep hatred between the two and to not foresee this is inexcusable. Especially after the “state of emergency” recently enacted and only through international pressure finally removed by Musharraf.

The turning point to get Musharraf on board was a September trip by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte to Islamabad. "He basically delivered a message to Musharraf that we would stand by him, but he needed a democratic facade on the government, and we thought Benazir was the right choice for that face," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and National Security Council staff member now at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

"Musharraf still detested her, and he came around reluctantly as he began to recognize this fall that his position was untenable," Riedel said. The Pakistani leader had two choices: Bhutto or former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf had overthrown in a 1999 military coup. "Musharraf took what he thought was the lesser of two evils," Riedel said.[2]


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Friday, December 28, 2007

The Missing Experience Factor

With the Iowa caucuses rapidly approaching the candidates are pressing their main messages with renewed intensity. The key to campaigning appears to be to “stay on message” regardless of the chaos around you. I am not sure how substantive it is to have a candidate repeat the same slogan over and over, to our political discourse, but this seems to be the conventional wisdom. The daily mantra for Hillary Clinton is “strength and experience”. The ex-First Lady cites her experience as a major difference between her and her opponents and one worthy of giving her the nomination. Something about her being able to “hit the ground” running, to where we aren’t quite sure. The experience that Ms. Clinton is touting is not just her experience as a junior Senator from New York, given that her closest two rivals also share that experience, no it is her experience in the White House as First Lady.

But during those two terms in the White House, Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.

And during one of President Bill Clinton’s major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Mrs. Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal sizzled.[1]

I for one believe that her experience as First Lady is not necessarily transferable to the position she is now vying for, no more than I believe that First Lady Laura Bush is qualified to be President based on her experiences in the White House. For some reason in this country it is assumed and accepted by many that political positions are hereditary and therefore subject to transfer between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, or brothers. I have often found the reasoning for this strange and not very convincing. I think that many times history has borne out the fact that this idea of transference is not a reliable method of picking our leaders.

While I agree that as First Lady Hillary played an important role and was I am sure privy to more than she is letting on due to security concerns, but even so there is a big difference in being the mate of a President and the President. No matter how close the two may have been, the responsibility for decisions was always on Mr. Clinton, as well as the repercussions of those decisions. If Ms. Clinton can demonstrate where she was in fact the “decider” on policy and the recipient of the responsibility for those decisions then I think she has a case, until then however her claims to that experience I think is misleading.

Understandably, the relationship between husband and wife is exclusive and while the dynamics of that relationship is unique to each couple, it is commonly assumed that most decisions are shared or at least discussed between spouses. I am sure the Presidency is similar, but to what degree does a President discuss and share with their spouse? Because we have never had a female President we only have one side of the equation to consider. The question then becomes how much influence and information was shared between the Clintons? Ms. Clinton has been murky in this area, except to produce generalizations concerning her access to the decision making process. The problem I have with Ms. Clinton touting her White House experience is that we have no way of knowing the extent of her involvement and even if she were in fact part of the discussions providing input and making decisions are not the same.

Friends of Mrs. Clinton say that she acted as adviser, analyst, devil’s advocate, problem-solver and gut check for her husband, and that she has an intuitive sense of how brutal the job can be. What is clear, she and others say, is that Mr. Clinton often consulted her, and that Mrs. Clinton gained experience that Mr. Obama, John Edwards and every other candidate lack — indeed, that most incoming presidents did not have.[2]

So, I guess my question is, does being First Lady give Ms. Clinton a leg up on her opponents in the experience department? Does my being married to a doctor give me valuable experience to begin diagnosing ailments, dispensing medication, and performing medical procedures? I am inclined to say no. While Ms. Clinton may have a better understanding of the stress, the difficulty, and the protocol of the Presidency, in my mind that does not equate to a marketable difference between her and her opponents in experience. The experience she brings as being the spouse of a President is distinctive compared to any of the other candidates this year or in years past, but again I have difficulty translating that to her now being uniquely qualified to be President. Maybe it’s a woman thing and I am not getting it, but what I do know is that being around the White House is no guarantee that someone is ready and qualified to be President. Maybe if that were true our current occupant would have done a better job.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

War On Terror; Fought By Foreign Mercenaries

I find it interesting that with General/President Musharraf’s government in trouble we are now getting reports that our billions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan is being misappropriated. It seems that for five years we have been contributing about a billion dollars a year to a program known as Coalition Support Funds. This of course is just a fancy name being used for a program that pays the Pakistanis to continue fighting a war they don’t want to fight and the results prove that out. The Coalition Support Funds are designed to reimburse the Pakistani military for conducting missions against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the mountainous border regions of Pakistan. My question is this, if the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the other terrorists are a threat to Pakistan as well as the US as the Bush administration and President Musharraf have stated why do we have to pay them to fight?

Early last week, six years after President Bush first began pouring billions of dollars into Pakistan’s military after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon completed a review that produced a classified plan to help the Pakistani military build an effective counterinsurgency force.[1]

Once again it seems like the only way we can get people to fight alongside of us in this “War on Terror” is to pay them. While this is not surprising it does raise some other interesting issues, such as why is it that now when Mr. Musharraf’s political position seems precarious these allegations are beginning to surface? Are we to believe that for all these years no one noticed that Pakistan was not using the money to buy the military hardware they were supposed to, but instead purchasing advanced systems to compete with India? Where were they purchasing this advanced hardware from with our tax payer dollars?

The Bush administration has kept a blind eye to the human rights abuses, the loss of democracy, and the misappropriation of funds that has been occurring in Pakistan. Why would they be concerned about those small details when they have done likewise here in America? Tyranny knows tyranny. Rather than complete the mission in Afghanistan and actually make the world safer as they claim, they instead choose to expand their war into Iraq. Now as they exit the world stage; we have a war on at least two fronts and we are not “winning” either and we are no safer. But Forgiven, there have been no more attacks in the US while Bush has been in office; we are fighting them there so we won’t have to fight them here. Understand one thing, the 9/11 attack was a one-time deal. It was not part of some global plot by al Qaeda to take over the United States or the world, it was designed to scare the hell out of us and it did that. The question now becomes where do we go from here?

Do we continue to pour boatloads of money into a black pit not only in America, but to every little tin-horn dictator who promises results? Unfortunately for Mr. Bush and his Neo-Con clowns, the world is more complex than their rhetoric allows. Just as our system is based on the intra-workings of many parties and agendas, so it is in any country. Every leader has to answer to someone and regardless of what they promise they still have to sell at home. In too many cases this requires cold hard cash to grease the wheels of government, so we expect results but only based on our schema. Other countries of course have their own procedures and they often times to do not emulate ours.

For their part, Pakistani officials angrily accused the United States of refusing to sell Pakistan the advanced helicopters, reconnaissance aircraft, radios and night-vision equipment it needs.

“There have been many aspects of equipment that we’ve been keen on getting,” said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the Pakistani military’s chief spokesman. “There have been many delays which have hampered this war against extremists.”

But by mid-2007, the $1 billion-a-year figure became public, largely because of the objections of some military officials and defense experts who said that during an ill-fated peace treaty between the military and militants in the tribal areas in 2005 and 2006, the money kept flowing. Pakistan continued to submit receipts for reimbursement, even though Pakistani troops had stopped fighting.[2]

Anytime our “allies” want more money they complain about how we are hampering their efforts to prosecute a war that we in fact started. Money often times used to enrich the dictators and their cronies, while the ones designed to benefit from the aid continue to go without. Do we really believe that the troops in Pakistan see Osama bin Laden as an enemy to their lives in the sense that we do? And it’s not just the “war on terror”, it is also used in the war on drugs. We expect other country’s troops to wage war on our behalf against their countrymen and crops that have been growing for centuries, all in an attempt to keep the drugs from our streets and the world’s biggest market.

We have replaced diplomacy and mutual benefit with bribery and intimidation. Is there any wonder our foreign policy is in shambles? The sad part is that the upcoming election only promises more of the same. It is time we reexamined our priorities as well as our allies and develop a foreign policy that matches the reality of the world and not the false history that we continue to try and hold on to. The world has changed, unfortunately we have not.


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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in waddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Glory in the Highest

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“ Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men![1]

As we gear up and celebrate the trappings of capitalism, I would just like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. I will be spending the day serving meals at my church for those less fortunate and then I will be spending time with my family. I hope that we can all try to do something for those who aren’t as fortunate and spread the joy and the love that is Christmas. I know in my life it isn’t about the giant miracles, but the quiet daily obedience to the hope that we can make a difference in how we live together in this world. It all starts not with a loud bang, but with a quiet whisper a daily commitment to serving someone other than myself. It doesn’t matter what nationality, religion, or race we can all use this time we have to make the world a better place one small kindness at a time.

Merry Christmas, Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah, Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo, Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun, Sretan Bozic, Glædelig Jul, Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! or Zalig Kerstfeast, Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad, Joyeux Noel, Froehliche Weihnachten, Kala Christouyenna!, Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova, Shub Naya Baras, Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket, Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah, Buone Feste Natalizie, Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto, Merry Keshmish, Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom, Hristos se rodi, God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År, Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun, Chung Mung Giang Sinh, Cestitamo Bozic, Rehus-Beal-Ledeats, Melkin Yelidet Beaal, Jwaye Nowel or to Jesus Edo Bri'cho o Rish D'Shato Brichto,

[1] The Bible – Luke 2:1-14

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Monday, December 24, 2007

The Huckabee Yelp

As the Baptist preacher, turned governor, turned Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee continues to rise in the polls, it will be very interesting the imaginative ways the Republican establishment will use to derail his candidacy and still maintain its strangle hold on the evangelicals who are flocking to him. In just two short weeks we have been treated to new revelations concerning the “man who would be king”. There was the “pardoned rapists” story, the unelectable story, and now the release of private letters written by Mr. Huckabee while in Arkansas. The Republican dirty tricks department is in full-throttle mode and as his numbers continue to increase the tricks will get dirtier and the tone is going to get meaner.

As Mike Huckabee gains ground on his rivals for the Republican nomination, opponents have quietly begun highlighting the slew of ethics issues the social conservative faced during his political career in Arkansas.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found Huckabee trailing only Mitt Romney — and by less than the margin of error — in Iowa, where the primary season kicks off with Jan. 3 caucuses.

But opposition research files on Huckabee’s ethics stand at the ready, and their contents have begun seeping into press releases.[1]

The only way for the Republican establishment to discredit Mr. Huckabee and retain the evangelicals they will need is to attack him on two fronts. The first will be to question his ethics and try to expose him as a hypocrite (as if in the Republican Party that would be a deal breaker); using this method it would appear that the candidate self-destructed, he really wasn’t a “true believer”. The second front will be to attack him as being “too liberal” on social issues, this would include immigration, taxes, and social spending. By using either of these two weapons against him the Republicans can smear the candidate, but still maintain the “moral” high ground.

What the Huckabee candidacy has exposed is the lie that has been the lynchpin of Republican politics since Nixon’s campaign, the lie is that social conservatives and fiscal conservatives share commonality of views and issues. The truth is that they don’t and the destruction of the Huckabee campaign will expose it for all to see. While the fiscal conservatives have always needed the social conservatives, it has always been a one way relationship. The fiscal conservative candidate would pay lip service to the social conservative agenda and they would be allowed to speak at the nominating convention, but then after the election the fiscal conservatives would go back to business as usual. That business of course is to turn on the public faucet for the wealthy to fill their pails at the public’s expense. This game has been played out in election after election.

What no one counted on was that a “true” social conservative would ever get the nomination; this is the fly in the ointment. It is ok for Republican candidates to pander to the social conservatives to get their votes so long as the social conservatives remain on the fringes. The problem with pandering to the lowest common denominator is that every cycle requires you to offer more, so if you are pandering to bigots, racists, and intolerant people the line keeps getting lower and lower. The rhetoric has to get nastier to satisfy the mob. Up until now, the fiscal conservatives have been able to feed the “monster” and still remain viable in a national election. Sure there have been the occasional social conservative candidates, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and of course Pat Buchanan; but they have always polled low enough to not raise any alarm. Usually, the fiscal conservatives could present a candidate who could project himself as a “true believer”, but this year is different.

This year you have a pro-life Mayor who committed adultery, a Mormon Governor from a liberal state, and a secular Senator with no ties to the social conservatives; it couldn’t get worse for the fiscal conservatives. The rise of Mike Huckabee should have been predictable for the Republican strategists, but of course due to their arrogance of intelligence they believed that they could continue to roll out the “perpetrators” and continue to keep the social conservatives inline. You keep stoking these fires and someone is bound to get burnt. The Republicans, using the Karl Rove play book, have stoked the fires of the social conservatives with their phony “value” issues until now there is a flame that is threatening to consume the rest of the Party. The social conservatives are now ready to exert a larger influence over the Party than ever before, now they want one of their own, a true believer.

The previous social conservative movements have all been orchestrated by the fiscal conservatives to imitate a real movement, but it was always under the guidance of a fiscal conservative masquerading as a social conservative. Mike Huckabee represents the day of reckoning for the fiscal conservatives. He has recognized the “frailty” of the current crop of wannabes and has rushed in to fill the void. To the chagrin of the Party establishment his message is playing better than the “anointed” candidates and it scares the hell out of them. They know that on the national stage Mr. Huckabee will be vulnerable to all types of attacks and would probably lose in a landslide. The thing about the message of hate and intolerance is that it may play well to the Party base, but it doesn’t play so well to the nation as a whole.

So, as the deconstruction of Mike Huckabee plays out it will be interesting to note the role of the media in his downfall. The Republicans will use their trusty friends in the fourth estate to write the stories that they have leaked. All of this will be done of course in the interest of the public’s right to know, if only they were as forthcoming with all of their candidates.


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Friday, December 21, 2007

It’s The Mormonism

Despite his national speech in Texas concerning religion and government, Mitt Romney has a problem. It’s not a new problem, but it is one that will prevent him from becoming President. The reason it will prevent him from getting the Republican nomination is not because of his religion, but because of how he has cast his campaign around his religion. If Mr. Romney had run on leadership and business experience he could have avoided the whole Mormon issue, instead he has pandered to the Right on religious values thus bringing his religion to the forefront. By doing so he caused the same voters he was pandering to, to begin questioning his religion. And from the poll numbers and the rise of Mike Huckabee they didn’t like what they saw.

"Evangelicals like to find someone who shares their faith and their values. Usually you find one or the other; in Huckabee you find both," explained the Rev. Hal Lane, the pastor of West Side Baptist Church in Greenwood.

Romney knows he has a problem making himself acceptable to voters in a state where about 725,000 people are Baptists, like Burdette. That's a big reason that the candidate made a highly publicized speech Dec. 6 in Texas to explain the relationship of his faith to his values and politics.[1]

Unfortunately for Mr. Romney many of the religious right voters he courted, despite their protestations to the contrary, are bigots. They don’t understand Mormonism and you didn’t explain it to them when you had a chance, now you are seeing the true nature of your conservative brethren. They are not going to vote for you. The thing about America is that the polls are inaccurate. The reason they are inaccurate is because very few people will actually say what they truly believe, usually they say what they think they are suppose to say. It is only when they are alone or around like minded individuals do they feel comfortable enough to tell the truth.

The truth is simply this; many of your religious conservative friends do not believe that Mormons are Christians. When Mr. Huckabee ”innocently” asked about Jesus and the devil being brothers he knew exactly what he was doing and his rise bears that out. The fiscal conservatives don’t care what religion you are because their religion is money, but those down home true believers are the ones who are flocking to Huckabee by the boat loads. It is a dangerous game when you mix politics and religion, especially if your religion isn’t their religion.

The sad part about it all is that no one wants to deal with this issue truthfully, because if they do then they will expose the religious right for what they really are. Why do you think Pat Robertson endorsed an adulterer and pro-choice liberal from New York? You, Mr. Romney are not their kind of people. These people sad to say are intolerant of not only blacks, Latinos, and poor people; they are also intolerant of those who do not share their exact beliefs. The Evangelical movement in America has done more to promote disunity of the Church than any other movement in the history of the Church. Because of their narrowly defined views and belief that they possess the only “real truth” from God, they have alienated more than they have united.

The reason Mitt Romney’s speech failed is because he failed the litmus test. He failed the test by not taking it. The voters he hoped to assuage with his speech were waiting for him to explain Mormonism to them and to let them know that he was one of them, he didn’t do that. Instead he tried to play bait and switch, while he claimed that religion was not relevant to the political arena, he let those people know at the same time he still believed as they did.

But he did so, unfortunately, in a typically Romney-like way, with a corrupt little wink-and-nod to his evangelical inquisitors--oh, but don't worry, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind," etc.; just don't ask me about Mormon underwear. It is corrupt not because it is untrue, but because it aims to let him eat his cake and have it, too. He rejected demands to explain his faith, but did so while letting his interlocutors know that he was really one of them. Too clever by half, in the end, because they will not actually believe him, but this is what comes of positions of moral conviction devised by management consultants.[2]

The truth is that we are a nation of hypocrites. We espoused our belief in separation of Church and State but by our very process of electing leaders we violate those beliefs. These are supposed to be two Christians and you see the intolerance, imagine if one were a Muslim or Hindu? I however do not feel sorry for either, they both have used their religions to pander to the forces of intolerance and bigotry and everyone knows what happens if you play with fire. The Republicans are now scrambling to derail Mike Huckabee’s momentum, but they were the ones who opened the door for him to run through by their years of courting religious fanatics and bigots. I for one hope that he is the nominee, they deserve each other.


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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Regulators, Mount Up

As the mortgage crisis continues to worsen and the big R word (recession) is showing up more and more in stories about the economy, it once again illustrates the true intentions of corporations and the Congressional minions who do their bidding. For the past three decades the conservatives and the corporations have been continually assaulting the regulatory arm of the Federal Government. Whether it is the inspectors that safeguard our food supply, our water, or our medicines all have been under attack. Although it is never presented in truth, but always in code, the fact remains that the goal has been to weaken our ability to regulate their business practices.

The code is couched in language like “big government”, free market, and self-regulation. The results of course have always been the same; pollution, tainted food and medicines, and loss of consumer choice. Because they have been so good at their marketing practices anyone who has the audacity to request regulation is immediately labeled a socialist or obstructionist. Every time deregulation has come to an industry the consumers have suffered, whether it was communications, travel, or banking. Deregulation requires us to rely upon the greediest to recognize the common good and to do it, instead of maximizing their gains. Why anyone would think that this would work is beyond me.

The scary part is that even when misdeeds are reported by the few regulators we have, they often times go unheeded. Whether it is Medicare fraud, war profiteering, or gas price gouging the response is often times the same; inaction on the part of superiors or a cover-up. How many stories have we read of government “whistleblowers” who were retaliated against by managers or supervisors, hell we even had to create a law making retaliation illegal? The latest in the long saga of ignored warnings is the mortgage crisis, it appears that almost a decade ago there were warning signs and alerts that were being ignored. This included a direct warning to Alan Greenspan, our economic guru and market manipulator. Although Mr. Greenspan has always claimed political neutrality, many of his policies were timed to benefit the current and past Republican administrations.

In order to keep the “recovery” on track for young Mr. Bush, Mr. Greenspan ignored warnings from a Federal Reserve governor and an advocacy group to investigate the growing lending crisis. Lenders were initiating risky loans as early as 2001 and were generating mortgages that would balloon into unmanageable payments for the borrowers. I remember when I first heard of the balloon mortgages, my first reaction was disbelief and slowly over time turned into anger. The concept to me seemed as solvent as the “junk bond” fiasco that took place two decades earlier, both were predicated on greed and the lack of financial knowledge of the consumers. Just because someone can get credit doesn’t mean they understand credit.

WASHINGTON — Until the boom in subprime mortgages turned into a national nightmare this summer, the few people who tried to warn federal banking officials might as well have been talking to themselves.

Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve governor who died in September, warned nearly seven years ago that a fast-growing new breed of lenders was luring many people into risky mortgages they could not afford.

But when Mr. Gramlich privately urged Fed examiners to investigate mortgage lenders affiliated with national banks, he was rebuffed by Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman.[1]

Because Mr. Greenspan was trying to create the illusion of prosperity to buoy the fortunes of President Bush, he refused to rein in a lending market that had gone crazy. In what is being called the pursuit of innovation and Mr. Bush’s “ownership society”, lenders were allowed to generate loans to low-income or sub-prime borrowers. While in theory this was an excellent goal, because it represented a market that had longed been ignored and discriminated against. However, when theory became practical application the sharks began to infest the waters. These consumers who were not credit savvy were placed into loans that promised initially low interest rates, but were back ended with astronomical rates that based on their incomes the consumers could not afford. Also included in many of these loans were predatory lending fees and clauses that bound the consumers to these high interest loans for years.

Customarily, mortgaged loans are generated by one institution only to be sold to another lender after about a year. Many of these loans were created with high buy-out clauses that prevented the loans from being sold or allowing the consumer to shop the loan for a lower interest rate. The good news is you finally get a home; the bad news is in three years you won’t be able to afford it. This is the results of the Republicans privatization of HUD. Rather than having the government regulate and assist with these new homeowners, the conservatives believe that the consumers are best served by private industry. The same private industry that ravaged the communications, healthcare, and airline industries was entrusted with the lives and homes of unwary consumers. Now, that shouldn’t have set off any red lights or alarms.

“Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” Mr. Gramlich asked in a speech he prepared last August for the Fed’s symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo. “The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.”[2]

The problem I have with corporate America and their Congressional minions is not capitalism, everyone is entitled to make a buck; no it is their greed. With these guys there is never enough money, power, or stuff. The truth of the matter is there was no Bush recovery; it was all smoke and mirrors orchestrated by Greenspan, the markets, and the corporations. This explains why even with a “so-called” recovery middle and poor Americans were still struggling and there was no consumer confidence. I just hope the next administration will have the courage of its convictions and will rein in the greed that has been allowed to run rampant for nearly a decade.

[2] Ibid.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

From One War Zone To Another

This is the story of a mother who had to make the desperate choice of sending her son from one war zone (the mean streets of America) to another war zone (the streets of Liberia) in order to try and save his life. It is the choice no mother should ever have to make, but unfortunately it is a choice many black mothers have had to make over the years. Maybe it wasn’t the civil war of Liberia, but it could have been Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Many a black parent has sent a child off to war so they might escape the killing fields of urban America.

She had made up the lies that coaxed him on the plane, and arranged for her brother to take him into his household. She did this knowing much of what her Americanized son would face there: the empty belly, the threat of public whippings, the cramped sense of possibility.

Yet she was equally sure of this: He would be better off there than in Park Hill, the Staten Island neighborhood where she was bringing up two sons and two daughters.

Augustus had been well schooled in the lessons of Park Hill, which has taken in so many waves of refugees over the last 30 years that it is known in some quarters as Little Liberia. By his teenage years, he had adopted a street name (Ghostface) and a gang affiliation (Bloodline) and learned how drugs coursed through the neighborhood into the hands of customers.[1]

It is frightening to believe that a young black man is safer in a civil war in a foreign country than he is at home in America. He is, if that home happens to be in the gang and drug infested streets of the inner city. Our cities are turning into war zones pitting one young black man against another for the limited resources that the drug trade has created. Young men are risking their freedom and their lives to live a lifestyle of false promise and false bravado, leaving their mothers to worry and mourn their early departures. Departures usually brought about by the hand of another black man.

This story highlights the growing disconnect occurring between the youth and the adults of our communities. There is a divergence between the goals and aspirations of the parents and the “reality” of the streets beckoning their sons. For many young black men the streets are offering a better alternative to the hard won lessons of their parents. They watch as their single mothers struggle to make ends meet with the low wage jobs they are forced to take, while at the same time they see the fast money and lifestyle being offered by gangs and the streets. They struggle in an educational system that doesn’t want them and a support system that doesn’t exist. Due to a lack of male guidance they grow up with a distorted sense of manhood and the responsibilities that it brings. They love and at the same time detest their mothers for the lives they have been given.

What does this say about us as a society, that we are willing to let another generation of young black men die or be imprisoned without any effort to integrate them into society? I find it hard to believe that with all of the intellectuals and studies that have been done, we can’t solve this. So the question then becomes, do we want to solve it? For years we read and see story after story of the untimely death of another black youth at the hands of another black youth and yet we do nothing. We can provide hundreds of billions of dollars to destroy a country and yet we can’t find any money to help build our own country? These young men are the by-product of our neglect and of a system that does not value their talents or their imaginations. They are the forgotten children of black men who did not understand or accept that being a father is more than being a “baby’s daddy”, black men who have by the millions placed the burden of raising their children on the woman.

“My mom’s friends, I respect them, but they don’t know about life,” he said, glassy-eyed, as the television flickered in the corner. “My thugs, they know about life, because they were in the struggle, too.”

His friends had seen darkness in the world, Augustus said, just as he had. Some had gotten shot. Some had been arrested. They knew what was up.

“That type of people,” he said, “they got big dreams.”[2]

This situation is wrong on so many levels. This situation is about more than money; money alone will not fix this. The time has come in this nation in general and in the black community specifically to make this situation a priority. We have allowed the myths and the lies of the streets to go unchallenged to our children, they have lost touch with reality and have replaced it with someone else’s false reality. The reality they live in is real only because we allow it to be, we allow them to believe that the dead end life of drug dealing and gang banging is preferable to honest living and work. There is no one to offset the allure of easy money with the reality of its consequences, which is death, prison, and emptiness. There is no one to teach them that being a man is not about smoking dope, making babies, and killing other young men. There is no one to teach them the hard lessons of being man, going to work, raising your kids and loving your wife.

No mother should ever have to choose to send her son to a war to save him, but if things don’t change soon in our communities it very well may be safer than being at home. And that is a tragedy for all of us. The whole world is lessened by the senseless violence that is cutting down our young men before they ever get to live. The whole world is lessened by a system that renders them useless before they reach their teens. We have no idea the contribution these lost young souls could have on the world, what gifts they could bring. Instead we readily accept their destruction and chalk it up to another bad ass kid that gets shot and killed. I hope one of these days they will be recognized as human again and worthy of our support and our anger. All they receive now is our pity and pity is just one step up from contempt.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Pope Is A Taker

There have been many books I have read that have caused me to stop and ponder, some have caused me to understand another view, and some have caused me to wonder why they were ever written. Few books have ever caused me to alter my view of myself and the world around me. One of those books was entitled, “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. The synopsis of the book and the series is that there are two types of people who have inhabited the earth, they are “takers” and leavers”. The takers believe that that the earth was created for man to conquer and to rule over. They believe that everything on the earth is theirs for the taking and the destroying in pursuit of man’s God given status. The leavers believe that man is just one part of the earth and not the end all, be all. The leavers believe that we as men have an obligation to care for the earth and its inhabitants and to live in it in a way to try and disturb it as little as possible.

The 80-year-old Pope said the world needed to care for the environment but not to the point where the welfare of animals and plants was given a greater priority than that of mankind.

The German-born Pontiff said that while some concerns may be valid it was vital that the international community based its policies on science rather than the dogma of the environmentalist movement.

The leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics suggested that fears over man-made emissions melting the ice caps and causing a wave of unprecedented disasters were nothing more than scare-mongering.[1]

The sad thing about the takers is that they are everywhere. They have permeated every level of society and they espouse all types of beliefs. Takers can be Christians, Communists, Capitalists, Socialists, Libertarians, Agnostics, Atheists, or any other sect, denomination or political affiliation. The difference between the takers whether they are capitalist or communists is not the use or destruction of the resources, but the distribution of that destruction. Both believe that it is man’s to do as he pleases and if nature gets in the way, then nature has to go.

The reason that I am singling out the Pope is because of what he represents to so many people. The Pope for many people is the human representative of God on this earth, so he carries a lot of weight. For this man to come out and basically declare the destruction of the earth at the hands of man “scare-mongering” is more than I can take quietly. If he were just some old man giving his personal opinion that would be one thing, but when you have a billion people listening to your every word then I would have hoped he would have chosen them more wisely. By doing so, he is giving the other takers of this world spiritual cover, the same type of spiritual cover that was given to the invaders that destroyed indigenous people all over the world in the name of progress and conversion and the same type of cover that allowed the Nazis to ethnically cleanse Europe.

The Pope would have us to believe that the world is man’s to destroy if he chooses and that the other things that the same God that created him created are less than man and thus can be extinguished for the good of mankind. What the Pope and the other takers have failed to realize is that we live in an ecosystem and if you destroy one part of it you weaken and eventually destroy all the other parts. Man cannot subsist in the world without the rest of the environment being intact, if that were in fact the case why are the other plants and animals here? I don’t know what Bible the Pope reads, but the one I read says that man is to tend the earth and be a steward. Does a steward destroy the thing he was given to protect and take care of?

The second problem I have with the Pope is his reliance on science over God. He states that the world should rely on the opinion of science to make its decisions, well Pope if that were in fact the case you would be out of a job. Science does not support the existence of God or the Bible, so here you have a man who is sworn to uphold the word of the Bible and he is asking us to believe those who have done all in their power to destroy the word of the Bible. I’m sorry but I am a little confused. If the scientists say that we can destroy the earth with no repercussions we should believe them, but if they say that the Bible is a lie we should not believe them? So when it is convenient or when they justify the superiority of man we are to follow their opinions.

This is precisely the problem with the modern Church, they have come to rely too much on the wisdom of man and they are following the world. Instead of leading the world to peace, tolerance, and love of our fellowman, the Church has become the home of intolerance, bigotry, and hatred. Our temple has been turned into a “den of thieves” and a home of hypocrites. According to the takers there is only one right way to live, their way. I disagree.


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Monday, December 17, 2007

Cocaine Sentencing Is Cracked

It is unfortunate that it took the Supreme Court to do what the Congress should have done a long time ago and that is to allow Federal judges to consider the disparity between powder cocaine and crack when sentencing offenders. Rather than showing leadership and courage, the Congress even with a Democratic majority refused to act on the huge disparity in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine for fear of appearing soft on crime. Once again political expediency outweighed moral conviction and the Congress failed to act. I don’t know about you but the Democratic majority was long on promises and has been short on delivery.

It took the US Sentencing Commission to right a wrong that has sent thousands of blacks to prison for possessing crack for sentences that would require someone with powder to have 100 times as much to receive the same sentence. Needless to say the majority of crack users are black and the majority of powder users are white. Everyone in Washington knew the system was broke and even after years of protests by the ACLU and other civil rights organization, no one in the Congress would show any backbone and right the wrong. What we have in Washington are professional politicians who are more concerned about getting re-elected than they are about doing what is right for the country. I’m sorry but I am having a hard time believing that the answer is electing more of the same, to me having experience in how things are done in Washington is not a real selling point.

In their decision to allow the judge’s discretion in sentencing, the Supreme Court began the process of removing more racial barriers in the criminal justice system. In what has become an almost comical situation, Judge Thomas, the only black on the Court was one of the dissenting votes. And he wonders why he gets no love from other blacks. Maybe because he doesn’t represent the black people he was selected to represent. Mr. Thomas you do not have the luxury of saying I am a Supreme Court Justice that just happens to be black, no sir you filled a spot vacated by a man who represented those who did not have a voice in this country. Now for you to come along with that black conservative crap of I want to be just another Justice who happens to be black is ludicrous. Black people need you on the Court to represent their interests, I believe that the whites you want to represent have enough representation, look around you sir when you are in the chambers and count the number of blacks there with you. I can understand his not wanting to be limited to being a color, but until we have equal protection under the law sir, you are representing not just a color but a people, a people who have long been denied and continue to be denied equal protection. The fact that this case even came before the Court should be evidence enough of that fact. Your denying this fact does not make it go away.

Now the Commission has the opportunity to complete the process they have begun when they vote whether to make the sentence reductions retroactive, this would affect some 19,000 inmates who could see their sentences shortened. The commission in the past has made similar reductions in penalties for drugs primarily used by whites and have made those reductions retroactive. It would only be fair to do likewise in this case.

In previous years, the sentencing commission reduced penalties for crimes involving marijuana, LSD and OxyContin, which are primarily committed by whites, and made those decisions retroactive.[1]

True to their script, the Bush administration is opposing making the sentences retroactive, the thought of blacks being released from prison early is obviously scaring the hell out of the wing-nuts. Citing that there would be a rise in violent crime with the early releases, they are once again using the justice system to promote their racial animosity towards blacks. The problem with their logic is that these are not inmates who have committed violent crimes, these are primarily crack users and low-level dealers. Make no mistake if they were violent criminals their original sentence would have been enhanced to reflect that. This was the same logic used when the original sentencing disparity was first passed, because crack users were more violent than powder users they require stiffer penalties. It was false then and it continues to be false today. It isn’t that they are more violent, it is that their skins are darker.

Making the guidelines retroactive is opposed by the Bush administration. A senior Justice Department official warned Tuesday that retroactive guidelines could have a disastrous effect on crime-riddled communities that are not ready to receive crack offenders who could be released early from prison as a result.

"Areas that already are seeing an increase in violent crime -- this is going to affect those areas dramatically," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the commission had not formally acted.[2]

While I applaud the recent movement on this issue, it is still up to Congress to permanently fix this problem, by removing the current sentencing guidelines that provide harsher penalties for one form of a drug versus another form. There is no scientific or rational basis for the disparity, it is racist at its core and must be removed. Senator Joe Biden has introduced legislation to do just that and must be applauded and supported, even though it was his bill that created the Drug Czar.

UPDATE: The Sentencing Commission voted to make the sentencing recommendations retroactive.

[2] Ibid.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

“I’m Going To Kill Them”

After reading about the following case, I know that it is going to elicit emotional responses from many different quarters with many different agendas. While I support the right of all citizens to protect their homes and their lives what occurred in this case does appear to support that doctrine. There were numerous forces at work that day in this neighborhood that all came to a head in the fatal shooting of two men. The case revolves around Joe Horn, a 61 year old retiree who happened to witness the burglary of a neighbor’s house. Mr. Horn did the neighborly thing and contacted 911 to report the crime in progress. So far so good, neighborhood watch is working. However, it is at this point where the story takes a tragic and bizarre twist.

“O.K.,” Mr. Horn said. “But I have a right to protect myself too, sir,” adding, “The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it.”

The operator said, “You’re going to get yourself shot.” But Mr. Horn replied, “You want to make a bet? I’m going to kill them.”

Moments later he said, “Well here it goes, buddy. You hear the shotgun clicking and I’m going.”[1]

This is part of the exchange between Mr. Horn and the 911 operator. During the call the operator continually instructed Mr. Horn to stay in the house and let the police who were enroute handle the situation. As you can see from the exchange Mr. Horn had gone and retrieved his shotgun and was dead set on confronting the would be burglars. Before expounding on the larger issues raised by this tragedy and yes it is a tragedy because two men lost their lives, I want to touch on the two things that trouble me the most about this incident. Were they illegal aliens? Yes. Were the criminals? Yes, but two men still lost their lives that day over some stuff and that is a tragedy.

The first thing that stands out to me is in the second line of the above exchange. Mr. Horn explicitly states that he is not going to stop them, he is not going to shoot them, but that he is going to “kill them”. To me this implies intent on the part of the “so-called” hero in this story. It appears that Mr. Horn had determined for whatever reason that he was going to not only have to intervene, but that he would have to slay the criminals. Based on his own words, he had come to the conclusion that these two men deserved to die by his hands. It is one thing to have to kill someone while defending one’s own life, family, or even property; but to leave the safety of your own home to confront criminals at a neighbor’s home, who were not home at the time nor in any danger, in my opinion crosses the line.

Captain Corbett said that a plainclothes officer had pulled up just in time to see Mr. Horn pointing his shotgun at both men across his front yard, that Mr. Ortiz had at one point started to run in a way that took him closer to Mr. Horn, and that both men “received gunfire from the rear.”

That fact, alone, however, was not necessarily conclusive, Captain Corbett said. “It tells an investigator something, but not everything,” he added. “They could still have been seen as a threat.”[2]

The second and most damaging to me against any argument of home owner’s rights is the report that the burglars were shot in the back. The case is being spun as a justifiable homicide case, but having the victims shot in the back has got to (pardon the pun) blow holes in that defense. I will be curious to see how it will be demonstrated that two suspects with their backs turned or maybe even fleeing from the shooter could have been a threat. If you put the two together it seems that Mr. Horn decided that he was going to go and kill a couple of ni**ers that day, legally. It should be noted that Mr. Horn was white and even though his victims were illegal immigrants from Columbia, he misidentified them during the 911 call as black. So, in his mind at the time he was confronting two black men.

This story encapsulates the current state of America on so many levels. There is the right to bear arms, the right of citizens to protect their homes, crime, fear, illegal immigrants, race, the role of the media, and the criminal justice system. Anyone searching for a case that has all the current hot button issues couldn’t find a better one than this if they had written it themselves. This one has something for everybody and I am sure it will bring out the fanatics on all sides. But the question now becomes what went wrong here and why? It would be easy to chalk it up to another frustrated white man who saw his chance to kill a couple of blacks and get away with it, but is it that simple?

I for one don’t think so. Of course Mr. Horn’s prejudice played a role in this and anyone who says it didn’t is either a liar or a fool and both are dangerous. But there are larger forces at work and these to me are more sinister. These are the forces that allow Mr. Horn’s prejudice to be played out in this scenario. What usually fails to get mentioned in the right to bear arms argument is that fact that this “so-called” right comes with responsibility. Just because a person can purchase a gun doesn’t mean they should have a gun. I am not talking about the certifiable nut that shoots up malls or schools, I am also talking about the average Joe who watches too much “COPS”, local news broadcasts, or 24. All of which are designed to heighten the fear of the public and increase the level of paranoia and bravado. But of course any talk about responsible gun ownership is immediately shouted down by the gun lobby and the NRA, because to them any concession to complete freedom of guns is considered sacrosanct. This man had no reason to be doing what he did, he was not a trained professional. If he were a policeman who shot two suspects in the back he would still have to answer for his crime. How anyone can justify an armed citizenry performing police work without training is beyond me.

Then there is the media that feeds the fear and paranoia of its viewers, the worst of which is local news. In their drive to get ratings these broadcasts are filled with either murder and mayhem or misleading stories. If one were to watch and believe the local news broadcasts one would believe the home invasions are happening on every block almost every hour, carjacking is rampant, and all violent criminals are minorities, preferably black. These broadcasts cater to the most sleazy and lowest common denominator. They seemed designed to only reinforce already engrained prejudices and stereotypes.

Then of course, there is the tone of political discourse today. With potential candidates for the highest office discussing torture, locking down the borders, and the mass expulsion of immigrants it is no wonder the public is frustrated and wanting to take matters into their own hands. Rather than providing leadership, today’s candidates are merely pandering to the worst elements of our society. For some reason those who harbor the fanatical views are more politically active and therefore receive the bulk of the attention.

Whenever you have an atmosphere charged by racism, guns, and vigilantly justice, incidents like these are bound to happen. I am very interested in seeing how this one plays out in the criminal justice system. The political agendas are being served; I only hope that justice is served. Regardless of what you think of those two men, none deserves to be gunned down in the back for a burglary. Mr. Horn seems to have come to the conclusion that in this case he was the “decider” of guilt, sentence, and execution.


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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Robert M. Gates; Al Qaeda Terrorist?

On the surface this may seem completely insane and unworthy of any critical thought, but on his recent visits to Afghanistan and Iraq there were suicide bombers following him everywhere he went; coincidence? Maybe or maybe he is one of those Al Qaeda plants that we have heard so much about. The rise in the level of bombings on demand should give the “surge is working” crowd pause, the surge is working because those who are opposed to our presence there are allowing it to work. No one knows what their overall schemes are, but make no mistake the lull in violence is not under the control of our military or the Iraqi government. The opposition has for some reason decided it is in their best interest to quell the violence.

BAGHDAD, Dec. 5 — Car bombs in Baghdad and three northern Iraqi cities killed at least 23 people and wounded more than 40 others today as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived for an unannounced visit with senior Iraqi officials.

Indeed, the four car bombs — the first of which detonated in the northern city of Mosul shortly before Mr. Gates’s plane arrived there early today, seemed timed to coincide with his visit. None of the bombings, however, occurred anywhere close to the defense secretary or his entourage.

In Baghdad, Mr. Gates was to meet also with President Jalal Talabani as well as with American commanders. Mr. Gates flew to Iraq from Afghanistan, where on Tuesday he heard appeals from senior Afghan leaders for more money and weapons to combat the recent rise in insurgent activity there. There were two suicide bombings in Kabul during his visit. The first, on Tuesday morning, wounded 22 Afghan civilians; the second, early Wednesday, killed 7 Afghan soldiers and 6 civilians, and wounded 17 others.[1]

Anyone who believes that we are driving the level of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan is suffering from a serious case of delusion. The level of violence in Iraq is dependent on the Iraqis and their willingness to buy into the current government and its ability to solve their daily problems, so far that government has been either unable or unwilling to provide solutions. This lull in violence will only be temporary, if the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki does not begin to resolve the issues that are currently dividing the Iraqis. If this government fails to act, I believe that not only will there be a return to pre-surge levels of violence but also an increase in the number of people taking part in the new violence.

As the frustration level of the Iraqi people grows, the violence will begin to target more of the Iraqi government and less American targets. This decrease in violence is a honeymoon period, but if the delivery of needed public services and infrastructure development do not improve this honeymoon will come to an explosive end. Right now the people are just happy for a respite in the violence, but this will not last. There will be growing protests against the occupation and the impotent government.

The fact that the US security company massacres are passing with little or no response from the Iraqis should be reason alone to raise concerns. I hate to burst some bubbles but we are not that good nor are we in Iraq in sufficient numbers to maintain a continued peace. Many believe that it will be the Sunnis who will restart the cycle of violence, I believe it will actually be the Shias and will not be an orchestrated uprising. In my opinion it will be due to the continued frustration of the Iraqi people to the lack of improvements in their daily lives. Contentment with no violence will only last so long, then what? We should not let these lulls in violence convince us that everything in Iraq is honky-dory, because it is not. And despite the Neo-Con pundits and war supporters the surge is not a success. In their desperation for some semblance of good foreign policy news, they have duped a war weary public into believing that their bankrupt policies are working.

We have heard nothing about the internal refugee problems or the lack of basic services. If the best you can come up with after almost 5 years of occupation is a drop in violence, you know the redevelopment efforts are in trouble. The bottom line in Iraq continues to be the daily improvement in the lives of everyday Iraqis, until there is progress made in that area any peace will be transitory and elusive. The surge has worked to the point of exposing why we should have never entered into this quagmire in the first place. It has exposed that even with the most technological military in the history of the world, it will never bring peace or democracy. The best you can hope for by its usage is stability in the face of a bad situation. The surge has exposed that without diplomacy there can be no lasting peace. Of course for many of us it is a lesson we already knew, something about being a student of history.

Is Robert Gates an al Qaeda terrorist? Probably not, but I sure don’t want him coming to my town. The guy appears to be a suicide bomber magnet and I have no desire to be part of the collateral damage which also seems to follow.


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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Where’s The Garlic When You Need It?

In what is sure to become the new profit center for “legitimate banks”, many are now salivating at the check cashing/payday loan market. These customers were forced to go to the blood suckers at the payday loan offices because the legitimate banks had shunned them or did not have branches in their neighborhoods. Well, now that the market has ballooned into a 10 billion dollar a year enterprise guess who wants to reach out to these poor underserved consumers? The same banks that were under serving them, talk about the ultimate irony. The good news is that you escaped the werewolf; the bad news is you did it by running into Count Dracula’s castle and its after dark.

WASHINGTON — After years of watching check-cashing stores and payday lenders steal potential customers, banks and credit unions are beginning to offer the same services and products, but in more affordable and responsible ways.

The movement comes as federal bank regulators focus their attention on the estimated 73 million Americans who are underserved by the nation's banking industry.

The hope is that mainstream financial institutions can convert the check-cashing customers and payday loan-seekers of today into the sought-after depositors and low-risk borrowers of tomorrow.[1]

Here is where it gets good, the banks and Feds would have us to believe they are doing this to drive the costs of these services down. I’m sorry, but when have banks ever reduce the costs of their services? They are tired of letting the other loan sharks make a killing and now they want to muscle in and legitimize the fleecing. Using the excuse that the current purveyors of these services are overcharging, these legitimate banks relying on their lobbyists and legislators will low-ball the competition or buy them out and have total access to these billions of dollars. Unfortunately for the current industry it won’t be hard; they have done everything in their power to undermine themselves. They have been charging exorbitant fees, they have treated their customers like crap, and they have resisted any changes to their business model.

In what has to be the most insane marketing campaign I have ever witnessed they are now running an ad by the “Community Financial Services Association Employees” stating that they are now going to make their rates understandable to their customers, no more small print. I don’t know how you can hide 400% annual interest in fine print, but I guess you can. Why is it whenever an industry gets in trouble they come out with these “feel good” ads about how they are just trying to help out the community? These people are predators, pure and simple. They prey on the low to middle income in an effort to keep them in the high cost borrowing cycle.

For those that don’t know the program, it works like this. People who ordinarily are not able to qualify for bank or credit union loans, (eventhough many have accounts at these institutions) they go to these payday or title loan places (which usually double as check cashing centers) where they are offered small cash loans. The consumer will apply for the loan and upon approval will present the lender with blank personal checks that will be deposited on the day the borrower is paid. Here is the kicker, the annual interest on these loans average about 400% of the principal; because the lender only talks about the two week rate the consumer is usually unaware of the astronomical rate charged. The borrower can continue the loan at the maturity date by simply paying the interest of the loan. This is how the cycle begins, the borrower rather than paying off the principle will continue to pay the interest over and over or will pay off the loan only to have to take out another loan because they cannot afford the loss of income.

But today, Mary Cheh brought three former payday loan employees who said they were in business to hook low-income wage earners into a cycle of debt. This is Mike Donovan. He resigned yesterday a Check 'n Go District Manager.

Mike Donovan, Former Payday Loan District Manager:

“The average Check 'n Go customer in Washington, D.C. is continuously in debt to the company for over a year. We train our sales staff to keep customers dependent. The repeat borrower is vital to our business model.”

Bill Harrod was a payday loan manager for 10 months and says he was trained to target a specific community.

Bill Harrod, Former Payday Loan Manager:

“My company was deliberately targeting minority people for a continuous loan process that they would never, ever get out of. “

And Cameron Blakely is a former payday loan store manager.

Cameron Blakely, Former Payday Loan Store Manager:

“Our borrowers were like indentured servants. They work, they work, but each payday we claimed a piece of their paycheck. Every paycheck.”

The Community Financial Services Association, the payday loan association, says today's allegations do not represent the experiences of millions of customers and employees in payday stores across the country.[2]

These types of predatory loan practices are not unusual, but are indicative of this industry. Once again wealth cannot be gained by low income workers because the cost for their services is always higher than the public at large. They pay more for everything from food due to a lack of grocery stores, check cashing due to a lack of banking services, and transportation due to credit difficulties.

While I am no fan of these types of lenders, I am not naïve enough to believe that bankers will come in and make it all better. The problem is that they see an opportunity to take advantage of a consumer that will not complain or call their legislator. This is the same industry that is front of Congress regularly for high interest and bad loan practices on credit cards and other service fees. Now we are to believe that they won’t bring that same greed to an industry that has been allowed to bleed communities dry? This is a travesty, the consumers will still be fleeced but by “legitimate banks and credit unions”, that ought to make them feel better.

There is a system being deployed in many Third World countries where low income or even poor people are given small cash loans at interest rates that are low to help them start up small home businesses or for education. There is even a program at Kiva Org. where you can help provide the proceeds for these loans. They call them micro-finance loans and they are given to people to help them begin the process of rebuilding their lives. They are being utilized all over the world, except here. Here we have low income people being fleeced by greedy corporations, in another instance of transfer of wealth from the needy to the greedy. Where is the garlic for these blood suckers when you need it?


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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did I Feel A Draft?

In what will surely turn out to be the largest case of CYA in recent memory, the destroyed CIA torture tapes are continuing to make headlines. As each agency proceeds to cover their respective butts, the question of torture will continue to go unanswered. It has become the giant elephant in the room that no one talks about inside the beltway, while outside the beltway it is a heated topic. Here we have another instance of the electorate and the elected being disconnected. But do we really? Are the majority of Americans against torture? I know that on many blogs there is never a shortage of commentators who advocate the use of torture and these are not wing-nut blogs, but so-called progressive sites. There are also mainstream political candidates who have advocated the use of torture. We seem to be a nation torn on this issue and that speaks volumes about who we have become.

“There is never any justification for destroying materials that any reasonable person would believe might be requested in a civil or criminal proceeding,” said Mr. Remes, of the law firm Covington & Burling. “The C.I.A. had every reason to believe the videotapes would be relevant down the road.”[1]

I beg to differ with Mr. Remes, but yes there is a justification for destroying evidence if you have been involved in illegal activities. It happens all the time and with the impotence of the current Congress it will probably go unpunished. Anyone remember the Justice Department subpoenas, the Dick Cheney missing emails, or how about that undercover CIA agent leak? I would not be surprised if there were still copies of these tapes floating around in Langley somewhere, probably being used for training purposes. I read these articles and it makes me sick, the MSM refuses to call the procedure of waterboarding torture. They say things like according to the critics it is considered torture. I say we take all the editorial boards and subject them to a little waterboarding and see if their views will remain the same.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we as a nation are moving more and more towards fascism. There are now stories being released about how torture has actually saved the lives of Americans, how convenient that these anonymous sources have chosen now to leak this information. In what is being referred to as an “unpleasant procedure”, the source says while he was not involved in the act, it was effective. Well, no sh*t. Here is the problem, I am not opposed to torture because it works or it doesn’t works. That should not even be an issue. I am opposed to torture because it is wrong, both ethically and morally. We can argue from now on as to the effectiveness of it, the fact they we are even having the conversation is what should be troubling to those of us still a part of the human race despite 9/11. Someone help me here; did 9/11 remove our obligations to the rest of humanity? Did it give us a license to torture, maim, and kill without regards to the victim’s humanity. If it did, then God help us.

Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubayda gave up valuable information after being waterboarded, a former CIA agent involved in other parts of his interrogation told CNN today. John Kiriakou said he did not want to perform the "entirely unpleasant" procedure branded by critics as torture, but added it brought results that stopped attacks and saved lives.

Despite the executive blessing, Kiriakou and other agents were conflicted over whether to learn the technique, he said.

"One senior officer said to me that this is something you really have to think deeply about," the former agent said, adding he "struggled with it morally."

Kiriakou conceded his position might be hypocritical and said that the technique was useful -- even if he wanted to distance himself from it. [2]

We are perched on a slippery slope and I hope that we are aware of the consequences of the decisions we are making. This isn’t about stopping terrorist attacks. If you have a determined person who is willing to commit suicide there is no defense against it, even with isolation, torture, and preemptive war. Our becoming fascist will not keep us safe; it will only isolate us more from the rest of the world. We now have an Attorney General who never had to give an opinion on torture, confirmed by the Senate. It’s like everyone wants to divorce themselves from it, like Mr. Kiriakou and yet we want the results. I’m sorry we can’t have it both ways, either we are torturers of our fellow human beings or we are not. A black man just got 23 months for torturing dogs and we torture humans with little more than a whimper.


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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Finally, a President from the impoverished continent of Africa had the courage and the good sense to disregard the advice of the World Bank, which has an atrocious record for helping poor nations end their hunger and economic problems. In an unprecedented move, Bingu Wa Mutharika recently elected President of Malawi decide to go against the dire predictions of the World Bank and other rich agriculture countries and start subsidizing his country’s farmers for fertilizer and seed. I have been quite vocal for years against the policies of the World Bank and other agencies run by the industrialized nations for being unrealistic and in many instances detrimental to the economies and especially the agriculture of the states they are suppose to be helping.

LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.
But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.

Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer.

Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.[1]

It has long been my contention and now being proven that these policies are designed to keep the impoverished, poor and dependent on the large food subsidies being supplied by these nations. By keeping these poor nations reliant on the agricultural subsidies of the richer nations, it allows these richer nations to continue to subsidize their own agricultural industries. The very thing they tell the poorer nations is wrong and will lead to ruin. Apparently it will only lead to ruin for the poorer nations because the rich nations don’t seem to be having any trouble feeding their people. It works so well they are even able to send out millions of metric tons of excess to the poorer nations.

In what has turned into a viscous cycle of greed the rich nations led by the US, subsidizes its agriculture industries and then sells the excess to aid organizations who gives it to the poorer nations. On the surface this appears to be a good thing, they are after all helping to fight hunger. In the short run it is true, but in the long term growth of a nation it is not good. Instead of supporting the development of the poorer nations own agriculture industries it floods the market with cheap food, depressing their already suffering markets. Because they are not developing their own markets, they are dependent on the donor nation’s good will to feed their people.

There are two problems with this scenario in my opinion. The first is that it allows the donor nations to exercise too much control over the poorer nations, their politics, and their economies. So long as the poorer nations support the policies of the donor nations, everything is cool. However, should the poorer nations decide to exercise their own sovereignty, there could be issues with the donations. The donor nations are able to keep the poorer nations in line through dependency on food subsidies. Should the people elect a leader that is not supportive of the donor countries policies, the aid could and sometimes does evaporate. This was the basis for much of the Cold War strategy.

The second problem with this scenario is that it is short-sighted and smacks of racism. It keeps the poorer nations in a state of begging. This constant state of poverty and begging reduces their national pride and personal growth. Because many of the poorer nations today are brown or black, it prevents these dark skinned people from playing a role on the international stage. This keeps their issues and concerns from coming to the forefront in international circles. The strategy appears to be, “keep them barefoot and hungry”. When your belly is empty, you don’t have time for international concerns. As a result most global policies are being created by and for the rich nations, with little concern for their effects on the poorer nations.

Recent increases [in foreign aid] do not tell the whole truth about rich countries’ generosity, or the lack of it. Measured as a proportion of gross national income (GNI), aid lags far behind the 0.7 percent target the United Nations set 35 years ago. Moreover, development assistance is often of dubious quality. In many cases,

Aid is primarily designed to serve the strategic and economic interests of the donor countries;

Or [aid is primarily designed] to benefit powerful domestic interest groups;

Aid systems based on the interests of donors instead of the needs of recipients’ make development assistance inefficient;

Too little aid reaches countries that most desperately need it; and,

All too often, aid is wasted on overpriced goods and services from donor countries.[2]

Not only has Malawi demonstrated the ability to feed itself using the subsidies, they were able to provide excess to other countries just like the donor countries. So what are we to make of this news? That too often impoverished nations are kept impoverished for economic and political reasons. It is time that the IMF and the WB provide policies that actually aid the impoverished and not the rich nations. Policies that allow the poor nations to provide for their citizens and build for their futures are what is needed. We can no longer continue to subsidize our industries on the backs and the bellies of the hungry and the poor.

It is time for the US and other rich nations to stop being obstacles to the development of these poorer nations for the sake of their own political and economic ends. It is time to support real reforms to how we provide aid and food to developing countries. These nations deserve our help in creating their own markets and development, not our being an impediment to their futures. If we don’t change how we support others, eventually there won’t be enough food for everyone and then what.

Malawi’s determination to heavily subsidize fertilizer and the payoff in increased production are beginning to change the attitudes of donors, say economists who have studied Malawi’s experience.

The Department for International Development in Britain contributed $8 million to the subsidy program last year. Bernabé Sánchez, an economist with the agency in Malawi, estimated the extra corn produced because of the $74 million subsidy was worth $120 million to $140 million.

“It was really a good economic investment,” he said.

The United States, which has shipped $147 million worth of American food to Malawi as emergency relief since 2002, but only $53 million to help Malawi grow its own food, has not provided any financial support for the subsidy program, except for helping pay for the evaluation of it. Over the years, the United States Agency for International Development has focused on promoting the role of the private sector in delivering fertilizer and seed, and saw subsidies as undermining that effort.[3]

[2] Pekka Hirvonen, Stingy Samaritans; Why Recent Increases in Development Aid Fail to Help the Poor, Global Policy Forum, August 2005

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